Scene 1.2 - The King's Court, Within the Castle
The new King of Denmark, Claudius, announces his recent marriage to Gertrude, the widow of the former King, Claudius' older brother named Hamlet. Publicizing his own mirthful marriage in the wake of Hamlet's death - when much of the nation is still grieving - is a rhetorical feat that Claudius handles no less delicately than deftly. He speaks briefly of a threat to the Kingdom posed by the young Fortinbras, Prince of Norway. Fortinbras has demanded the surrender of lands lost to Hamlet during his uncle's reign, but Claudius is unmoved by the demand. The King therefore sends two messengers, Voltemand and Cornelius, to inform the bed-ridden elder Fortinbras of his nephew's distasteful designs with the hope that Fortinbras will reprimand his nephew.
Claudius next turns his attention to Laertes, son of the Lord Chamberlain named Polonius. Recalling that Laertes had a request but having forgotten its precise nature, Claudius assures Laertes that his case will be granted, for none is more highly esteemed by the King than Laertes' father. Laertes petitions the King for permission to return to his studies in France which he left behind to attend the King's coronation. Once Polonius consents to his son's departure, Laertes' suit is immediately granted. The King then addresses Hamlet, his new son by virtue of his marriage to Gertrude, Hamlet's mother. Still mourning his dead father, Hamlet makes no attempt to mask his melancholy. Neither does he hide his disdain for Claudius, saying the King is "more than kin but less than kind." That is, Claudius is too close for comfort as a relative of Hamlet's, as both uncle and father, and yet he is far from dear in Hamlet's estimation. The King does not respond directly to this stinging comment, probably because he chooses not to hear it or because he simply doesn't understand it; many modern editors and directors choose to make it an aside spoken only to the audience. The King and Queen try to dissuade Hamlet from further mourning, arguing that death is no less natural than inevitable. It is stubborn, impious, unmanly and simple-minded - so runs their argument - for Hamlet to continue grieving. Both also request that Hamlet remain in Denmark instead of returning to his studies in Wittenberg; Claudius even goads Hamlet with the thought that one day the throne will most likely be his.
Hamlet, saying very little, agrees to stay. Everyone exits the stage except Hamlet. Unable to contain himself a moment more, Hamlet pours out his heart: he bemoans the fact that his religious faith prohibits suicide and then condemns his mother's hasty marriage to Claudius. To him, there is very little of promise in this world of rank and gross deeds: "How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable / Seems to me the uses of this world!" His mother must be frail indeed, Hamlet concludes, to forget his father so quickly and completely in marrying Claudius: "O most wicked speed, to post / With such dexterity to incestuous sheets." The gush of emotions, however, comes to an abrupt halt as Horatio enters, accompanied by Marcellus and Barnardo. Horatio recounts the story of the ghost to Hamlet, declaring that even the ghost's hands resembled those of Hamlet's father. Without hesitation and swearing his friends to continued secrecy, Hamlet says he will meet the three of them later that night during their watch to see and speak to the ghost himself.
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Points to Ponder
Did You Know
Scenes 1.3 and 1.4
Scenes 4.1, 4.2, and 4.3
Scenes 4.4 and 4.5
Scenes 4.6 and 4.7